If you arrive at The Crown and Castle to be greeted by a tall, blonde woman who looks strangely familiar, there's a perfectly logical explanation. The owner of this small hotel – so-named because it lies in the shadows of ruined Orford Castle – is none other than TV's Hotel Inspector, Ruth Watson. At the moment you can catch her on Thursday nights on Channel Five as she tours the country helping struggling hoteliers to turn their businesses around, but that's only a sideline to her real job. Most days she is on site at The Crown and Castle with her husband David, looking after their guests.
There has been a hostelry on the site of the Crown and Castle for eight centuries, and some believe that the inn was originally built into the castle walls. While part of the existing inn dates back to the 16th century, it was largely rebuilt in 1896, with a separate building added in the mid-20th century. The Watsons bought the Crown and Castle eight years ago, and have since invested huge amounts of money and care to transform it from its run-down state into a delightful small hotel where the food is the real draw.
Ruth used to do the cooking at her last place – the Fox and Goose Inn at Fressingfield (also in Suffolk) – and she has written three recipe books; but these days she leaves the cooking to her long-serving head chef Max Dougall. However, she still sources ingredients and writes the menus, which change daily.
The Crown and Castle, Orford, Woodbridge, Suffolk, IP12 2LJ (01394 450 205; www.crown andcastle.co.uk). Located next to the surviving Norman keep of the castle, the hotel is easy to find once you've made your way to Orford, which is about 25 miles east of Ipswich. The drive from Ipswich, along mostly winding roads, may seem to go on forever, but the scenery is beautiful, particularly as the route passes through Rendlesham Forest.
Orford itself is a beautiful village, full of pretty cottages leading down to the quay where you can catch a ferry across to Orford Ness, the 12-mile shingle spit separating the rivers Alde and Ore from the North Sea.
Time from nearest railway station: Woodbridge, 12 miles away, is a 15-minute drive from the hotel.
There are seven bedrooms in the main building, one across the courtyard and 10 in the separate block bordering the garden. I stayed in one of the " garden rooms", which had double doors leading out to the garden, with a view of the castle beyond.
The bright and airy room featured simple but stylish furnishings and a very comfortable king-size bed. The walls and carpet were in neutral cream and beige, whilst the upholstery – in modern, brightly patterned prints – injected a pleasing degree of colour. The modern bathroom had a bath and a decent power shower. Guests can also stay in one of four rooms at the nearby King's Head pub, where the Watsons are tenants of Adnams Brewery. Meals can be taken here too, with the Crown and Castle offering a regular package whereby guests get two dinners at the hotel's Trinity restaurant and one pub supper.
Trinity has two AA rosettes and offers interesting, but not overly complicated dishes using the best of seasonal, mostly local ingredients. Starters might include six Carlingford Lough oysters; Orford smoked trout, eel, cucumber and dill salad; buffalo mozzarella and griddled nectarine salad; or goat's cheese and parsley tortellini with beurre blanc and broad beans. Mains might range from Suffolk guinea fowl breast with summer vegetable and rosemary fricassee, to Aberdeen Angus sirloin steak with garlic butter, onion rings and french fries. Given its evident popularity, the restaurant has a tremendous atmosphere, and I particularly liked the way that the menu suggested food and wine pairings. I also managed to try the King's Head for lunch the following day – despite a rather good, hearty breakfast at Trinity. Although the food was excellent, it's a pub in the traditional sense, serving simple dishes such as Orford crab and samphire quiche, and fish and chips.
Freebies? Arran Aromatics toiletries, bottles of mineral water, cookies, tea, coffee and hot chocolate with fresh milk.
Keeping in touch: TV and telephone in the bedrooms and free Wi-Fi in the bar.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Doubles start at £90 including breakfast, or £145 with dinner and breakfast.
I'm not paying that: Thatched Farm B&B (01473 811 755; www.thatchedfarm. co.uk) in Waldringfield, five minutes from Woodbridge, offers B&B from £66.Reuse content